Russian President Vladimir Putin and more than 110 million citizens began voting today on the first day of a legislative election in which the extra-parliamentary opposition, whose leaders have been marginalized, imprisoned or are in exile, is not participating.
“Make your choice!” said Putin after casting his ballot electronically in the office of his residence in Novo-Ogariovo, outside Moscow.
Putin thus tried to encourage his fellow citizens to vote during the three days allotted to minimize the risk of covid-19 contagion, although the opposition suspects that the Kremlin’s United Russia party will take advantage of the 36 hours of voting time to manipulate the results.
Voting begins on Friday
As is tradition, the Kamchatka and Chukotka regions in the Far East were the first to open the polls. However, by mid-afternoon, less than 10 % of Russians had voted.
Although the Central Electoral Commission (CEC) denied irregularities or problems with security cameras, its president, Ella Pamfilova, denounced the long queues and crowds at some voting stations.
“Sanitary distances are not respected. It is unacceptable,” she said.
The independent press drew attention to the fact that these queues were formed by military personnel, teachers and workers of enterprises and public institutions, United Russia’s electoral breadbasket.
The opposition has on numerous occasions accused the authorities of forcing public sector employees to vote for the ruling formation.
“The problem is not the falsification of the results, but the stance of doing nothing, since nothing will change. That is a very common stance in Russia,” Dina, an observer who lived in Argentina, told Efe in Spanish.
For that reason, she decided for the first time to dedicate her three days off to watch over the cleanliness of the elections on behalf of the liberal Yabloko party.
“I may not change anything today or next year, but at least I do something, I try,” she said.
Lack of hope
“We’d better stay as we are. I want continuity and stability,” commented a pensioner, just after casting her vote in a school in the north of Moscow.
United Russia, which seeks to renew the constitutional majority — more than 300 of the 450 seats in the Duma — is betting on social programs to undermine the support for the communists, the second party in voting intentions, with more than 16 %, according to the polls.
In fact, Putin signed today, in the middle of election day, a decree on the payment of 50,000 rubles (almost 700 dollars) to the victims of the Blockade of Leningrad (1941-44) during World War II.
“Supporting the victims of the blockade is our sacred moral duty. Our whole country, our whole people will always remember the feat of the Leningraders,” he assured.
In addition to not being able to participate due to his imprisonment and the ostracism of many of his co-religionists, the opposition leader, Alexei Navalni, saw how Google and Apple withdrew today from their stores the “Electronic Vote” application, a program that recommends voting for the candidates most likely to defeat the ruling party, whether they are communists, liberals or nationalists.
Putin votes by Internet
The novelty of these elections is electronic voting. According to the CEC, 2.6 million Russians can use this option in Moscow and six other Russian regions.
“As you see, in conditions of sanitary restrictions, I have fulfilled my civic duty via the Internet, in electronic format,” Putin said, as could be seen on television.
In the footage, the Russian president is seen as he typed on his personal computer. “Thank you, your vote has been accepted,” the computerized voting system replied.
The electoral commission expects electronic voting to exceed 90 % turnout — more than one million already did so in Moscow — and that in the future it will be extended to almost the entire national geography.
“I vote with a ballot. I even brought my pen. My daughter forbade me to use the one they give us here so that I don’t get infected,” said a laughing Masha, an octogenarian Muscovite.